Monthly Archives: December 2010

Lebanon´s Next War: Al-Qa´ida vs. Hizbollah?

by Florian Flade


Why is Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah helping a radical Salafi extremist preacher sentenced to life in prison? What is the reason for a al-Qaida admiring, former anti-Shiite cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad to call to “bring Sunnis and Shiites together on certain issues”? In Lebanon the fear of a civil war, driven by al-Qaida´s Anti-Shiism agenda, is rising. Hizbollah observes an increase in hostile propaganda and activities within Lebanon´s Sunni community.

Salafi leaders accuse Hizbollah of threatening the change the face of the country, of acting arrogant and seeing Sunnis as an obstacle to execute their Iranian supported program. On a political level, Hizbollah´s power is seen as a danger to the security of Lebanese Sunnis. Several hardline factions such as the terrorist group “Abdullah al-Azzam Brigade” are working to steer up hatred and violence between the two Muslim sects. An hour-long Anti-Shiite propaganda video was produced, titled “The Oppressed Sect” (meaning the Sunnis in Lebanon).

As TIME Magazine reports in “Hizballah Fears ‘Qaeda’ Type Attacks from Lebanese Sunnis”, Lebanon waits for a event to trigger a civil war situation between militant al-Qaida inspired Sunni groups and Hizbollah-backed Shiite community.

Read the interesting piece here.

Haqqani Arrest – Big Catch…and Release?

by Florian Flade

Nasiruddin Haqqani on the left, his father Jalaluddin on the right (2001)

His father is a living legend, a celebrated hero of the Afghan War against the Soviets. His mother is a noble Arab woman from the United Arab Emirates. He himself is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in the AfPak region – Nasiruddin Haqqani.

Pakistani intelligence sources yesterday confirmed Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of powerful Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, was arrested by Pakistani agents this week when he was on his way from the city of Peshawar into the heart of Pakistan´s militant safe-haven North Waziristan. The Pakistanis stopped the car carrying five Taliban, one of them being Nasiruddin Haqqani. He and his companions had just returned from a pilgrimage and fundraising tour in Saudi-Arabia and wanted to travel to the town of Miramshah, where the alleged headquarter of the Haqqani-Network is stationed. Among those arrested was another wanted Haqqani commander, Mullah Muhammad Jan.

Nasiruddin, one of the younger sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was born to Jalahuddin´s Arab wife which he married during the 1980s Afghan Jihad against the Russian Red Army. It is said Nasiruddin who is known as “Dr.Khan” in Taliban circles, speaks perfect Arabic and because of his Arab blood was chosen as the main Haqqani official in charge of establishing connections to wealthy Gulf Arab donors supporting the Taliban insurgent campaign. He traveled to the Middle East frequently and is also suspected of being a key associate of al-Qaida in the Pakistani tribal areas of North Waziristan.

The arrest of the Haqqani offspring is seen as a serious blow to the Taliban group based in Pakistan but operating in Afghanistan. It comes at a time where the U.S. administration is increasingly putting pressure on the Pakistani government to consider a military offensive into North Waziristan to wipe out the terrorism center consisting of al-Qaida, Pakistani groups, the Taliban and Uzbek organizations. Pakistan´s military repeated their statement, a invasion of North Waziristan was not on their agenda – yet.

In fall of 2009 – after a US drone strike had killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – the Pakistani army went into South Waziristan, a former stronghold of several Taliban warlords, and occupied the region after driving out most of the Jihadi militants. The operation was a slow and painful experience and proofed to be rather ineffective as most of the terrorists did not stay to fight the Pakistani troops but fled into neighboring North Waziristan. Around Miramshah, Mir Ali and Datta Khel, the militant organizations have regrouped and continued plotting terror attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West.

While al-Qaeda and other are planning deadly operations in Europe and the US, and foreign Jihadis are rushing to North Waziristan to receive military training, the US wants the Pakistanis to conduct a clear-and-hold operation to stop terror-activities from that region. Talking about the Pakistani military, General David Petraeus said at a university lecture in Paris in November: “They recognise the need for more operations in North Waziristan.” Pakistan´s military chiefs explained that his troops unable to open a fresh front while they are still heavily committed to operations elsewhere in the country’s lawless border regions.

On December 20th, it was reported Core Commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Asif Yasin ruled out a major North Waziristan offensive and claimed a counter-terrorism operation was already underway in the area. While speaking with journalists, he said that the army is targeting terrorists already.

A few days ago The New York Times reported US military officials are pushing for a military expansion of US troops into Pakistan to fight terrorists in the tribal areas. The plan, as it was reported, included sending US Special Forces into the Waziristan area to kill or capture insurgent leaders.

In the light of all that political discussion and the US pushing Pakistan to do something about the Haqqanis and al-Qaida, could it be a simple coincidence wanted Taliban commander Nasiruddin Haqqani was arrested now? Rather it seems like the Pakistani government is trying to proof to Washington they are acting in the face of the North Waziristan insurgency. Due to their strong ties, local Taliban leaders and the ISI have in the past managed to create deals that avoided military action in the tribal region. Pakistan´s intelligence agency has a clear picture about the travel movements of the Haqqanis and could have arrested Nasiruddin long before his Hajj travel this year.

His arrest is a signal to Washington, trying to calm down the US call for a North Waziristan invasion. See, there is no need for US operations inside Pakistan, we will take care of the bad guys – that´s the message given by Nasiruddin´s capture. Question remains if the Haqqani son will stay in captivity or be made available to US interrogators. He is a valuable source and was in charge of financing of the Haqqani network, the most important Taliban group fighting NATO troops in eastern and northern Afghanistan.

A similiar arrest was carried out last February, when Pakistani security forces captured Mullah Baradar in Karachi. The CIA had provided information on the wanted Afghan Taliban commander to the ISI and pushed for his arrest. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund served as the military chief of the Afghan Taliban and was reported to be “No.2″ of the movement next to Mullah Muhammad Omar.

In October the Asia Times reported Baradar had been freed from Pakistani custody as the ISI wanted him to serve as a moderator in backchannel talks with the Taliban. “A senior Taliban leader, speaking to Asia Times Online on Thursday from the southern AfPak region, also confirmed that Baradar “had reached the safely of his people”. The implication is that he is back with Taliban leader Mullah Omar”, the Asia Times wrote.

So is Nasiruddin Haqqani´s arrest just another catch-and-release as part of Pakistan´s strategy to proof to the US that they are in control of what happens in North Waziristan? Is the arrest a show of progress in the fight against local terror groups or a serious effort to hurt the Taliban´s operational abilities?

Nasiruddin´s older half-brother Sirjuddin is still roaming free in North Waziristan and he is in charge of military operations in eastern Afghanistan. If they really wanted, Pakistan´s ISI would be able to locate him and take him out of the game. Instead they went for the less-important brother. Washington will not be satisfied and the military commanders will point to the Baradar-example pushing for more serious action in Waziristan.

Death Of A Online-Jihadi – From Cyberspace To Battlefield

by Florian Flade


Cyber Jihadi Abu Kandahar az-Zarqawi

“Remember the name Abu Kandahar al-Zarqawi. You´ll be hearing that name again”, Evan Kohlmann, American Terrorism Consultant and founder of “Flashpoint Partners” told the New York Magazine early December, “He´s lining up to be the next Humam al-Balawi (Jordanian suicide bomber that attacked CIA Khost base).”

Once again, Kohlmann, the leading expert on Jihadi online activities, was right. Last weekend the name “Abu Kandahar az-Zarqawi” appeared again, in the online forums when the al-Qaida sympathizers and cyberspace mujahideen applauded the martyrdom death of one their own. Known by his kunya or nome de-guerre Abu Kandahar from Zarqa (Jordanian town), the person behind that name was a Jordanian al-Qaida supporter dedicated to jihad on the internet and willing to die on the real battlefields. His civilian name was Haitham Bin Muhammad al-Khayat.

For years, al-Khayat used the pseudonym “Abu Kandahar” to spread jihadi propaganda messages in the most influential Arabic-speaking online forums. He acted as a administrator and moderator in the now closed Al-Ekhlaas and Al-Fallujah forums, and gathered a quiet significant fan base of al-Qaida sympathizers. “Distinguished Pen”, the Al-Ekhlaas forum named al-Hayat and gave him authority to write as a main contributor to the jihadi online network.

On August 24th 2008, “Abu Kandahar az-Zarqawi” posted a message on Al-Ekhlaas informing the members of the death of one forum member called “Abu Hurayrah 2″, who was killed fighting alongside al-Qaeda militants in northern Iraq. Abu Kandahar told the other forum members that he had received a letter from Iraq informing him about the death of fellow online jihadi “Abu Hurayrah 2″. This was one of the first signals that this jihadi supporter sitting in front of his computer was in fact in touch with those actively fighting Jihad. Abu Kandahar´s contacts with real terrorists not only the cyberspace wannebees became more obvious in the years to come.

Probably the most famous online Jihadi turned into an actual terrorist – Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi known in the cyberspace world as “Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani” – carried out a devastating suicide bombing in Khost, East Afghanistan, on December 30th 2009. Al-Balawi´s victims were CIA operatives, a team of al-Qaeda experts and terrorist-hunters stationed near the border to Pakistan, gathering information on al-Qaeda terrorists and giving target information to the CIA´s deadly drone project. The Jordanian al-Balawi rose to the highest levels of online Jihadi importance, standing out of the mass because of his poetic messages urging Muslims to fight Jihad. Jordan´s intelligence agency became aware of the increasingly celebrated online Jihadi “Abu Dujanah” and recruited him to infiltrate al-Qaeda.

Humam al-Balawi was turned into a spy and sent to North Waziristan, Pakistan, to join al-Qaeda. Without realizing their mistake, the Jordanians fulfilled al-Balawi´s dream of a lifetime and made him a real Mujahed on the battlefield. Contrary to what the Jordanian intelligence agents thought, al-Balawi never sold his loyalty but told al-Qaeda about who and why they had sent him to Waziristan. In cooperation with the Pakistani Tehrik e-Taliban, al-Balawi planned an attack on the counter-terrorism team. He succeeded in convincing the Jordanians to bring him to the CIA team stationed in Afghanistan. When he arrived at that base, the whole crew showed up excited about the new information al-Balawi would reveal. Instead, the Jordanian double-agent detonated an explosive device and killed seven CIA agents and an Jordanian intelligence official.

Eleven days after al-Balawi had carried out the suicide attack in Khost, his online propagandist colleague and fellow Jordanian “Abu Kandahar az-Zarqawi” posted the martyrdom message the suicide bomber.”Beware, beware that you are satisfied with writing on the forums without going to the battlefield in the cause of Allah”, Abu Kandahar quoted al-Balawi, “Running away from hell-fire and gaining paradise is a personal matter that concerns only you. I see no path to this except for death in the cause of Allah.”

Abu Kandahar, it became clearer from the postings that followed, admired the CIA attacker al-Balawi. While most of those Islamist active in the Jihadi forums are only supporting Jihadi with their writings and spreading of propaganda and the message of fighting as a duty ordered by Allah, al-Balawi alias “Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani” had acted. “Writers can create something big, but under one condition: They die so that their thoughts can live”, Abu Kandahar wrote, “Do not forget his (al-Balawi´s) will and go on his path.”

Certainly Abu Kandahar did not forget al-Balawi´s plea. After years of acting as the cyberspace ambassador for global Jihad, he wanted to fight and experience the battlefield first-hand. Sitting in front of the computer screen was no longer satisfying as the wish for the martyr´s death – even before al-Balawi carried out the attack on the CIA base – grew. In September 2009, the CIA-bomber posted a message saying “brother Abu Kandahar” arrived in Waziristan. Some months later, in April 2010, Abu Kandahar was interviewed by “Global Islamic Media Front” (GIMF) and urged Muslims of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan to start a guerilla war with sniper attacks, assassinations and IED attacks.

Last Sunday, a online jihadi named “Raheeg” posted a message stating Abu Kandahar az-Zarqawi had become a martyr in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region without naming details or circumstances of his death. Soon the online Jihadi community rushed to congratulate the Jordanian to his martyrdom and celebrate the death of one of their own, a fellow writer and propagandist.

With Abu Kandahar, a close associate of CIA suicide bomber al-Balawi turned the latter´s message of “die so that your thoughts can live” into reality. The case shows the path from cyberspace to real battlefield is not an impossible journey but rather worrying reality as numerous other internet activists will highlight Abu Kandahar´s story as an example to follow.

Online forums remain a window into the world of actual terrorism even if most of the members of the various forums will never turn their words of hatred into reality. Some are writing their way into martyrdom, creating a new practice where the Jihadi writer needs to sacrifice himself to his own message otherwise words will always remain words.